Thursday, 16 October 2008

A day at the beach in Aberystwyth, Wales

Jeri Bass is an antiquarian bookseller in Canada who is interested in old photo images. She recently sent me this large format (approximately 215 x 165 mm) mounted print by photographer E.R. Gyde of Aberystwyth, showing what appear to be several families on a day's outing to the beach. My interest in this particular photographer is because, although he had an Aberystwyth studio for over forty years, he also briefly operated a studio in Babington Lane, Derby, around 1889, which he took over from J.W. Price.

Image © and courtesy of Jeri Bass

However, this group portrait was not taken in Derby. The bottom margin of the front of the card mount is printed with "E.R. Gyde, Aberystwyth," suggesting that he was operating from the Welsh studio at this time. An examination of the photograph itself shows a large group of men, women and children, arranged rather haphazardly on and in front of a rock face, characterised by well defined, tilted strata. Many of the children have buckets and spades, which strongly suggests that they are at the beach. The style of dresses worn by the adult female members of the party, with leg of mutton sleeves, dates this photo to some time in the 1890s.

Since Gyde's studio at 20 Pier Street, Aberystwyth was close to the waterfront, I thought it possible that the photograph might have been taken not far away. The location and distinctive rock formations providing a backdrop offered a good starting point to search. I used the web site geograph, a project which "aims to collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland," and is doing a pretty good job, at least for some areas. I used the search page to look for "beach" near "Aberystwyth," which resulted in 80 images. Browsing through these, I hit paydirt on the second page with this excellent photograph entitled, "Tilted Rock Strata," taken by Bob Jones in March 2008.

© Copyright Bob Jones
© Copyright Bob Jones and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The rock face is located at the northern end of the beach and promenade immediately north of Aberystwyth town centre, below Constitution Hill. The hard bands of lighter coloured rock appear to be almost identical to those visible in Gyde's portrait taken over a century earlier. According to my copy of the Geological Map of Great Britain, Sheet 2 : England & Wales (2nd Edition, 1957, prepared by the Geological Survey & publ. Ordnance Survey), this area is underlain by grits and mudstones of the Tarannon and Llandovery Formations of Silurian age. The location of both Gyde's studio and the old photo are also shown in the Google Maps image below.

View Larger Map
Locations of E.R. Gyde's studio at 20 Pier Street,
and the group photograph shown above


  1. Brett, I'm glad to have found your blog via Genea-Bloggers. This is so interesting! I look forward to poking around in your archives.

  2. And nice to "meet" you too, T.K. - I enjoyed your Halloween story, "The Girl in the Graveyard" very much - although I must admit that I'm not usually one for ghost stories - and will have a better look at your previous articles too.
    Regards, Brett

  3. So cool - I walk past this spot on the beach almost every day walking the dog - I will view it differently from now on!

  4. Thank you so much, Theresa, for taking the time to let us know. perhaps you could send us a photo of you and the dog in situ? Regards, Brett

  5. Hi - at long last I have taken a photo but don't know how to get it to you!!

  6. Hi Theresa. Nice to hear from you again. You'll find my email address here.

  7. David Rowlands5 June 2011 at 15:54


    You should have asked! I was born and raised in Aber and the site of the photo was immediately evident to me!

    (I'll be back there briefly in October 2011 on holiday.)

    David Rowlands


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